The Los Angeles Clippers will be unable to call on Serge Ibaka for the remainder of the NBA playoffs after he underwent surgery on a back injury.

Ibaka had missed the previous seven games, but with the Clippers already 2-0 down in their series to the Utah Jazz, his campaign is now over.

The 31-year-old's first season with the Clippers has been hampered by back problems and he missed 30 straight games during the regular season, though the team confirmed the surgery, which took place on Thursday, was a success.

"There is nothing I would love more than being on the court helping my brothers and trying to win a championship," Ibaka posted on his official Instagram account.

"It's been a very tough season, I worked very hard to be back in time for the playoffs but sometimes injuries get in the way and health has to be a priority.

"I appreciate all the love and support from everyone and now I have my mindset on supporting my team and getting healthy and ready for next season."

Across 41 regular season games in 2020-21, Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 1.8 assists and 6.7 rebounds.

The Clippers face the Jazz in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard insisted the Los Angeles Clippers "have a lot of fight left" after they fell into a 0-2 hole in the Western Conference semi-finals series with the Utah Jazz.

The top-seeded Jazz took a two-game lead on Thursday with a 117-111 victory, Donovan Mitchell racking up 37 points to inspire Utah to triumph.

Leonard was held to 21 points in 39 minutes but is confident the Clippers can overturn the deficit, having come back from 2-0 and 3-2 down in their first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks.

"We all got to put our will out on the floor," the two-time NBA Finals MVP said.

"You know, see what we did in the first two games and try to limit our mistakes and just keep going on from there pretty much.

"We'll see [on Friday] what we got to do, and we've got a lot of fight left. So you know, we're up for the challenge."

Reggie Jackson top-scored for the Clippers with 29 points while Paul George produced a double-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

There was a significant disparity between the two teams in three-point shooting, with the Clippers going 11 for 30 from beyond the arc while the Jazz hit on 20 of their 39 attempts from deep.

"We've got to give them credit," said George. "This is a tough opponent. They weren't number one in the West for no reason.

"But, you know, we are approaching this the same way Dallas was, we still feel we have a lot of possessions that we can clean up, a lot of possessions that are hurting us that's our fault.

"As good as they are playing, as tough as this matchup is, we still feel like there's moments throughout this game, this series, that, you know, we are making plays that are self-inflicted.

"It's a lot of uphill. But we're optimistic that we can get this under control and go back home, one game at a time, and try to tie this series up."

Donovan Mitchell praised the Utah Jazz for taking the pressure off his shoulders in an outstanding team performance that earned a 117-111 victory at home to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Jazz moved 2-0 ahead in their Western Conference semi-finals series, with All-Star Mitchell posting 37 points in a stellar display.

But he was not alone in producing the goods, with newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert contributing 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

"I don't feel like I have to go out there and do everything," said Mitchell, who is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

"I think that's a credit to the guys we have on this team because they can go out there and make plays.

"Everybody's elevated their game."

Having played a leading role himself, Mitchell was keen to laud the impact of Bojan Bogdanovic, whose defensive efforts proved telling.

"Bojan's defense was superb," he said. "He's been taking that role and taking that challenge.

"We make jokes with him all the time and we look at Bojan and say, 'Hey, we pay you to shoot'."

Mitchell seemed to suffer a leg injury late in the contest that left him hobbling, although he dispelled any fitness concerns.

"I'm fine now," he said. "I walked in here and if you want me to sprint for you, I can. I'm good."

The result extended the Jazz's winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

Donovan Mitchell produced another monster performance as the top-seeded Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers for a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semi-finals.

After going off for 45 points in the opener, All-Star Mitchell posted 37 points to lead the Jazz to a 117-111 victory at home to the Clippers in Game 2 in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.

Mitchell was supported by fellow All-Star and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who put up 13 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Utah.

Utah's Mitchell is averaging 28.4 points in his playoff career, only behind LeBron James (28.7), Jerry West (29.1), Kevin Durant (29.2), Allen Iverson (29.7) and Michael Jordan (33.4).

The in-form Jazz extended their winning streak to six games – the team's longest unbeaten run in the playoffs since celebrating seven consecutive victories in 1998.

Kawhi Leonard and the fourth-ranked Clippers were looking to even the series by splitting Utah's homestand, but the visitors fell short in Game 2.

Reggie Jackson had a team-best 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting as Paul George (27 points and 10 rebounds) and Leonard (21 points) contributed.

In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Milwaukee Bucks escaped with an 86-83 victory against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3.

The Bucks had their backs against the wall after falling into a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Nets, but responded on home court in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee surrendered a 21-point lead at home to the Nets before Jrue Holiday put the Bucks ahead for good with 11.4 seconds remaining.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Khris Middleton top-scored with 35 points and 15 rebounds as Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating three-point attempt for the Nets bounced off the rim.

The Bucks are the only NBA team in the last 15 years to have two players (Antetokounmpo and Middleton) score 15-plus points in a quarter with no other team-mates posting a point (regular season or postseason), according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 68 points and 29 rebounds. Per Stats Perform, they are the first duo to combine for those numbers in a playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2001.

Durant's 30 points and 11 rebounds were not enough for the Nets, who were again without injured superstar James Harden (hamstring).

 

76ers at Hawks

The top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will visit the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup on Friday. The series is level at 1-1.

The Utah Jazz will once again be without All-Star Mike Conley for Game 2 of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Los Angeles Lakers due to a right hamstring strain.

Conley sat out the Jazz's 112-109 victory to open the second-round series in the NBA playoffs after hurting his hamstring in the series-clinching Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last week.

The Jazz guard will remain sidelined for Thursday's clash as top-seeded Utah look to open a 2-0 lead over Kawhi Leonard's Clippers.

Conley has been averaging 17.4 points, a postseason career-high 8.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds through five games in the playoffs.

During the regular season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The Jazz have won five consecutive games – the franchise's longest winning streak in the playoffs since claiming seven straight in 1998.

This is the first time Utah have won the first game of a series since the 2017 opening round, also against the Clippers. The Jazz are 10-3 (76.9) all time in a best-of-seven series when leading 1-0, winning each of their last three such series, according to Stats Perform.

Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell posted 45 points in Game 1 – he now has three of the franchise's five 45-point games in the playoffs, including the franchise record (57 against the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 first-round series).

Utah have made at least 17 three-pointers in five consecutive games, the longest streak in the postseason in NBA history.

In fact, the Jazz attempted 50 threes in Game 1, their most in a playoff game in franchise history.

In theory, the Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be the biggest obstacle on the Brooklyn Nets' path to an NBA championship.

To stand a chance of winning a seven-game series against the NBA’s premier trio of team-mates – Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving – you've got to be able to score points, and a whole lot of them.

Despite a recurring run of injuries that often rendered their Big Three to a Big Two – or many times a lonely One – the Nets were a remarkable 27-2 when allowing 112 or fewer points in a game during a regular season which they finished as a de facto 1A to the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference.

The true magic number when it comes to facing Brooklyn, however, is 120, as the Nets were a pedestrian 8-13 when opponents scored above that mark. So, how many teams averaged 120 points per game this season?

Just one, as a matter of fact. That would be the Bucks.

And what team had the most games this season totalling 120 or more points? Again, the answer is Milwaukee, whose 39 games hitting the mark was six more than the next closest competitor – which, you guessed it, would be the Nets.

Well, after two games of the most anticipated series of this year's conference semifinals, Brooklyn's perceived greatest threat had offered no challenge whatsoever.

After comfortably winning Game 1, even with Harden playing a mere 43 seconds after aggravating a previous hamstring injury, the Nets unequivocally justified their status as the favourites to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy with a 125-86 Game 2 thrashing that came with Harden cheering on his fellow well-paid team-mates in street clothes.

In hindsight, those results were ones we maybe could have seen coming. Sure, the Bucks effortlessly disposed of the reigning East champion Miami Heat with a first-round sweep, but it came without their offense performing at its usually potent level.

Milwaukee shot just 32.7 per cent from three-point range for the series, well below their 38.9 per cent success rate for the season, and they had at least 15 turnovers in three of the wins. The Bucks advanced mostly on good defense, coupled with an unquestionably abysmal shooting performance from the Heat over the four games.

In the Brooklyn series, the Bucks haven't been able to hit water from a boat, going into Game 3, having shot a paltry 24.6 per cent from beyond the arc over the first two clashes.

The early stages of the series also exposed Milwaukee's greatest weakness during what was otherwise another splendid regular season under Mike Budenholzer – an inability to adequately defend the three. The Bucks permitted opponents to make 38.4 per cent of their trey attempts over the 72-game schedule, with only the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves yielding a higher percentage.

Against a locked-in team like the Nets, that can be – and has been – a recipe for disaster. The first team in league history to make 15 or more three-pointers in six straight games during a single postseason, Brooklyn have connected at an incredible 43 per cent rate from long distance so far in these playoffs, going into Thursday evening's third clash with the Bucks.

If the Nets could even come close to keeping that pace the rest of the way, that likely spells doom for the rest of the NBA. The three-point shot has been a strong indicator of success in this postseason, as teams have won at a 70 per cent clip (35-15) when recording a higher three-point percentage than their opponents and are 25-7 when hitting 15 or more triples in a game.

Moreover, teams that have shot better than 40 per cent from three-point range are 24-5 this postseason, and the five teams that lost each faced an opponent that also eclipsed the 40 per cent mark in that game.

So, assuming the Nets don't do the unthinkable and somehow lose this series, is it a fait accompli they'll represent the East in the Finals?

They did lose two of their three match-ups with the 76ers during the regular season, though it's hard to put much stock in those outcomes considering Brooklyn were without at least two of Durant, Harden and Irving in all of those games.

Philadelphia getting past the upstart Atlanta Hawks cannot be considered an absolute given either, but the Sixers will provide an interesting test provided they do get past their pesky second-round foes.

They have the lowest ratio of three-point attempts to total field-goal attempts of any of the eight remaining teams, not too surprising for an offense centred around MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and the perimeter-averse Ben Simmons. But while the Sixers generally aren't bombing away with the same frequency as those still left standing, it could be argued that outside shooting may be the single biggest factor in determining how far they ultimately go this summer.

Next to Embiid's ever-present fitness concerns, Seth Curry might just be the X-factor when it comes to determining whether the 76ers can end a 20-year Finals absence. When Curry is going well and Embiid is healthy, Philadelphia are awfully difficult to beat. And Steph's little brother is certainly doing just that right now, having averaged 24 points while shooting 61.9 per cent (13 of 19) from three-point range over his last three games.

The 76ers went 20-3 during the regular season when Curry made three or more three-pointers in a game, and they've hit the all-important 120-point mark in five of their seven playoff games thus far. If it comes to fruition, a Philly-Brooklyn match-up in the East Finals would surely be a treat.

As for the West, the Clippers could represent the most imposing roadblock to the Nets' first NBA title in franchise history – on paper, at least. No team shot above the coveted 40 per cent standard from three-point range more times during the regular season than Tyronn Lue's group, whose 42 such games were seven more than the team second on that list (again, the Nets). The Clippers also led the league in three-point percentage at 41.1 per cent.

There's no questioning the Clippers' talent and depth. Trust, however, is another matter. This is largely the same cast that famously blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in last year’s West semifinals, and they couldn't hold on to a 13-point half-time advantage in losing Tuesday's series opener to a Utah team playing without starting point guard Mike Conley.

History isn't on the Clippers' side either, as they've never advanced past the conference semis in eight previous tries.

And what about the Jazz, for that matter? Utah may not possess the Nets' overall star power and haven't displayed the same level of recent dominance as their potential Finals foes, but they did lead the league in wins this season, are capable of shooting their way out of any deficit and haven't lost a game when Donovan Mitchell has taken the court since April.

That is only a seven-game winning streak since Mitchell missed over a month with a sprained ankle, but has there been a better postseason performer than Utah's All-Star guard over the last two years?

In 12 playoff games over that period, Mitchell has averaged 34.4 points on 50.6 per cent shooting, and a 45-point masterpiece against the Clippers on Tuesday was his fourth outing with at least 44 points during that stretch.

Of course, superlative individual efforts don't always coincide with championship glory. Just ask Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George was the subject of harsh treatment from the Utah Jazz fans on Tuesday, though he very nearly took the game to overtime.

The Jazz won Game 1 of the playoff series 112-109 in Salt Lake City, as George – in inspired form in the fourth quarter – almost propelled the visitors to a comeback.

All-Star guard George was wasteful in the earlier stages of the encounter, missing 12 of his first 14 shots, but found his aim in the final quarter, converting 13 points.

His fourth-quarter tally included seven points in the last three minutes, despite the Jazz supporters' "overrated" jeers – George had previously played for Utah's rivals Oklahoma City Thunder.

Yet with fans only just starting to come back in full capacity following the coronavirus pandemic, George had no issues with the chants, but did concede he needs to improve to help the Clippers level the series in Game 2.

"I like it," George said, as reported by ESPN. "That part doesn't get to me. It's all respect. I've had good games here and I've had bad games here.

 "That's part of this game, to be honest. The crowd's going to be involved. You want that. As an opposing player, you kind of want that.

"Fact of the matter is, I didn't shoot the ball well. I thought I was indecisive on my approach. But I will be a little bit better on taking the shots that I want."

George finished the game with 20 points in total, 10 rebounds and two assists, and acknowledged that Jazz star Rudy Gobert made life difficult for the Clippers.

"The big fella is really good at just clogging the paint up and just sitting at the rim," George said of Gobert.

"A lot of plays I was just forcing myself trying to get to the basket where he's there waiting for me. So I think just being decisive on the approach of setting up, getting the shots that I want while he's in those coverages."

Donovan Mitchell starred and Rudy Gobert produced a game-clinching block as the Utah Jazz drew first blood against the Los Angeles Lakers in their Western Conference semi-final opener.

Mitchell dropped 32 of his 45 points in the second half to guide the top-seeded Jazz to a thrilling 112-109 win at home to the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 on Tuesday.

Fellow All-Star Gobert – who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds – came up big at the death, denying Marcus Morris Sr. and his potential game-winning three-pointer.

Kawhi Leonard (23 points) and Paul George (20 points and 10 rebounds) were unable to lift the fourth-seeded Clippers in Utah.

Earlier in the day, a disappointed Joel Embiid had a point to prove as he fuelled the Philadelphia 76ers' 118-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2.

Embiid's MVP hopes were dashed by Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who was crowned the league's Most Valuable Player on Tuesday.

Already frustrated following a shock loss to the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semi-final opener, Embiid came out and scored 40 points with 13 rebounds to help level the series.

Embiid became the first 76ers player with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1970, while his postseason career-high points haul saw him become the first Philadelphia player with 40-plus points in a playoff contest since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson in 2003.

Tobias Harris chipped in with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, where he had 16 first-quarter points on eight-for-nine shooting.

It was not all smooth sailing after a fast start as Philadelphia squandered a 21-point advantage – Trae Young's pair of free throws giving Atlanta their first lead in the third quarter, 80-79.

But Shake Milton – who did not play in the first half – stepped up to the plate, scoring 14 points to help withstand Young (21 points and 11 assists) and visiting the Hawks.

 

Nuggets at Suns

In the only game on Wednesday, the second-seeded Phoenix Suns will look to claim a 2-0 lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference second round.

Utah Jazz All-Star Mike Conley has been ruled out for Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals due to a right hamstring strain.

Conley was in doubt for the second-round opener against the Los Angeles Clippers after sustaining the injury in the Jazz's series-clinching Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies last week.

The 33-year-old guard – who took only four shots in his last game, his lowest total in any of his 66 playoff games – will now watch from the sidelines as the top-seeded Jazz face the Clippers on Tuesday.

"Hopefully, we'll get him back as quickly as possible," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "But those things are hard to predict."

Conley has been averaging 17.4 points, a postseason career-high 8.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds through five games in the playoffs.

During the regular season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The Jazz have won all three previous playoff series between these teams in 1992, 1997, and 2017. That is Utah's most playoff series wins without a loss against one opponent, and it is the Clippers' most losses without a victory against one foe.

The Jazz have scored 120 or more points in each of their last four games, tying the longest streak in team playoff history (first achieved last August). Utah have had five consecutive games of 120-plus points in the regular season only twice, in 1982 and 1984.

Reggie Jackson paid tribute to Kawhi Leonard for instigating the Los Angeles Clippers' crucial Game 7 win over the Dallas Mavericks to secure progression to the NBA Western Conference semi-finals.

The Clippers were 126-111 victors on Sunday as they finally got the job done in the last game of the series, going some way to exorcising their 2020 demons.

Last year, the Clippers missed out on a spot in the Western Conference finals as they blew a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets, who eventually saw them off 104-89 in Game 7 in September.

The Nuggets became the first NBA team to overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the same playoffs and had been used as a stick to beat the Clippers with practically ever since.

While the Mavs put the Clippers under pressure, with Luka Doncic setting a new Game 7 record for 77 points scored or assisted, it was not enough as two-time Finals MVP Leonard played a starring role.

Although he did not match 22-year-old Doncic's stunning 46-point haul – which made him the youngest player in NBA history to average 35 points each game in a playoff series – Leonard only just missed out on a triple-double, recording 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Almost half (13) of those points came in an emphatic opening quarter, which Jackson felt was vital in setting the tone.

"I think it all started with Kawhi," Jackson said. "Kawhi came in with a mentality that he was going to take this game today.

"He was going to come in and lead and wasn't going to be shy about his play at all. He really got it going early and once he got it going early, guys had to load up and defenses had to change their coverages."

As for the Clippers moving past the disappointment of 2020, coach Ty Lue seemed relieved to look past it.

"Last year was last year," Lue said. "We talked about it when the season started, that's over and we've got to look going forward.

"We can't keep looking behind and what happened in the bubble. That s***'s over."

On the other side of the coin, much like Leonard in last year's semi-finals, Doncic's brilliance came to nothing in the end.

The Slovenian was the star of the series, with numerous Clippers applauding his performances after Game 7, but he cut a dejected figure and feels he has not proven anything about himself because he is paid to win.

Asked what he felt he had proved, Doncic said: "I mean, nothing yet. We made the playoffs twice since I've been here. We lost both times. At the end, you get paid to win. We didn't do it."

The Clippers will go on to face top seeds the Utah Jazz in the semi-finals after they eased past the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 in the first round.

Kawhi Leonard was the hero again for the Los Angeles Clippers, who completed their comeback against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 to progress to the Western Conference semi-finals.

A deciding game was needed in the opening-round series after Leonard erupted for 45 points to help the Clippers avoid elimination in the NBA playoffs on Friday.

In the winner-takes-all showdown at Staples Center, Clippers superstar Leonard stepped up to the plate with a double-double as the Clippers prevailed 126-111 to clinch the series 4-3 on Sunday.

Leonard posted 28 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals to lead the Clippers to a date with the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the second round, starting on Tuesday.

Luka Doncic carried the load for the visiting Mavericks in Los Angeles, but the All-Star's 46 points and 14 assists were not enough.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were 3-5 in Game 7 in franchise history – losers in each of their last three appearances (2015 Western Conference semi-finals, 2017 first round and 2020 Western Conference semi-finals) and looking to avoid becoming the fifth team in NBA history to lose four consecutive Game 7s.

While the Clippers led by eight points at half-time, the fifth-seeded Mavericks outscored the home team 19-6 to open the third period for an 81-76 advantage.

That sparked the Clippers, who responded with a 24-4 run for a 100-85 lead entering the fourth quarter and while the Mavericks chipped away at the deficit, there was no denying Leonard and the championship hopefuls – who became the first home team to win in this series.

In the earlier game, MVP finalist Joel Embiid made his return but top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers were upstaged 128-124 by the Atlanta Hawks in their Eastern Conference semi-final opener.

Embiid made his way back to the court following a meniscus tear and while he put up 39 points, the Hawks silenced a hostile crowd to draw first blood at Wells Fargo Center.

Trae Young had 25 of his 35 points in the first half as the fifth-seeded Hawks made a blistering start to the contest in Philadelphia.

Atlanta led Philadelphia 75-54 at half-time. According to Stats Perform, that is the highest first-half point total by a road team in a postseason series opener in history.

Young joined Lew Alcindor as the only players in NBA history to score 30-plus points in each of the first four road games of their playoff careers, while he became the first Hawks player in history to have 35-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason game.

 

Nuggets at Suns

The Phoenix Suns will host the Denver Nuggets in their Western Conference semi-final opener on Monday. In the east, the Brooklyn Nets can take a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Los Angeles Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard said he "definitely didn't want to go home" after producing a monster performance to avoid elimination from the NBA playoffs.

Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points as the Clippers topped the Dallas Mavericks 104-97 on Friday to force a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference first-round series.

Facing a postseason exit with the Mavericks leading 3-2, Leonard came up big for the fourth-seeded Clippers in Dallas, where the two-time NBA champion erupted on 18-for-25 shooting while nailing five three-pointers.

Through six games in the playoffs this season, Leonard is averaging 32.8 points per game on 60.5 per cent shooting. According to Stats Perform, he is the first player to average 30.0-plus points per game on 60.0-plus per cent shooting over his first six games of a postseason since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1983.

As attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles, Leonard told ESPN: "I definitely didn't want to go home.

"We have to do whatever it takes to get a win if we don't want to go home. It's on us."

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

With the Clippers triumphing in Game 6, it marks the first time in league history that the road team have won the first six games of a postseason series with the home side playing in their true home arena.

"Just another basketball game," Leonard said as he looked ahead to Game 7. "Like we say, if we don't want to go home, pay attention to details, have faith, shooting the ball with confidence. If you do that, you can live with the results."

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue hailed Leonard, saying: "Great players perform in big moments. It just shows you who Kawhi Leonard is."

Mavericks counterpart Luka Doncic was also full of praise after Dallas failed to book their spot in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range.

On Leonard, Doncic told reporters: "I mean, he destroyed us. That's what it is. He had a hell of a game. And that's what he does."

Doncic and the Mavericks remain upbeat, despite their missed opportunity on home court.

"It's all right," Doncic said. "We're still motivated. There's one more game left. I don't see why we shouldn't believe in it. There's one more game, so we all believe."

Kawhi Leonard matched his playoffs career high with 45 points to keep the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA season alive with a 104-97 victory at the Dallas Mavericks.

The fourth-seeded Clippers were facing elimination on Friday, trailing Luka Doncic's Mavericks 3-2 in the Western Conference first-round series.

But Leonard came up big for the Clippers with their backs against the wall, erupting on 18-for-25 shooting and five three-pointers to level the series and force a deciding Game 7.

Leonard made only seven of 19 shots in Game 5, after going 38-for-53 (71.7 per cent) over his previous three games, however, the NBA champion was far more efficient in Game 6 as attention now turns to Sunday's decider in Los Angeles.

For the first time in their history, the Clippers won three road games in one series, with Paul George contributing a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds as Reggie Jackson put up 25 points.

Luka Doncic – carrying 361 points from 11 playoff games into the contest, the highest total at that point of his career since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (405) in 1988 – posted 29 points but he was just two-of-nine shooting from three-point range, while team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points.

The Mavericks were 17-10 (63.0 per cent) in potential series-clinching games prior to tip-off – the third best record in NBA history (minimum 10 games), behind only the Golden State Warriors (42-23, 64.6 per cent) and Cleveland Cavaliers (25-14, 64.1 per cent), according to Stats Perform.

They made a strong start by outscoring the Clippers 28-26 in the opening quarter, though Leonard and the visitors wrestled back momentum in the second period for a 48-45 half-time advantage.

The see-sawing contest continued as the Mavericks used a 32-25 third quarter to close in on a potential Conference semi-final against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

However, Leonard flexed his muscles in a dominant final period to avoid joining city rivals and champions the Los Angeles Lakers in exiting the postseason.

 

Bucks at Nets

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets will host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell led the way as number one seeds the Utah Jazz progressed to the Western Conference second round, while the top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers also booked their spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Mitchell posted 26 of his 30 points in the first half to fuel the Jazz to a 126-110 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, sealing a 4-1 series victory in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday.

The Jazz All-Star tallied 10 assists and six rebounds, joining Deron Williams and John Stockton as the only Utah players with 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason clash.

With five three-pointers made, Mitchell also became the first jazz player in franchise history to finish with 30 points, 10 assists and five threes in a playoff encounter.

Mitchell was assisted by Jordan Clarkson (24 points) and Rudy Gobert (23 points and 15 rebounds) as the Jazz await the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Dallas Mavericks matchup.

Grizzlies sensation Ja Morant impressed again with 27 points and 11 assists as he finished his first playoff series averaging 30.2 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 48.7 per cent from the field – the highest ever points per game average by a Memphis player in a single postseason.

All three teams that had a chance to clinch a series midweek, won by 14-plus points following the success of the Jazz, 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time three franchises have claimed a series with double-digit victories on the same day since May 1, 2003.

 

Simmons flexes muscles as 76ers advance without Embiid

Despite the absence of MVP finalist Joel Embiid due to a meniscus tear, the 76ers still reached the second round thanks to a 129-112 rout of the Washington Wizards. Ben Simmons inspired the 76ers in Philadelphia, where he had a triple-double of 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. It was Simmons' third career playoff triple-double, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to move into second place on the all-time list in Philadelphia history – behind only Wilt Chamberlain (eight). Seth Curry (playoffs career-high 30 points) and Tobias Harris (28 points) also starred as the 76ers defeated the Wizards 4-1. Wizards pair Bradley Beal (32 points) and Russell Westbrook (24 points and 10 assists) combined for 56 points, however, it was not enough at Wells Fargo Center.

Next up for the 76ers are the fifth-seeded Hawks, who saw off the New York Knicks 4-1 behind a 103-89 success. Trae Young silenced fourth seeds the Knicks with a postseason career-high 36 points in New York. Julius Randle's 23 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the Knicks.

Luka Doncic put on a show as the Mavericks withstood the Clippers 105-100 for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series. Doncic went off for 42 points and a playoff career-high 14 assists to take down the Clippers in Los Angeles. The All-Star became the second player in NBA history to record a game with 42-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and 14-plus assists in the postseason, joining LeBron James (2018).

 

Rose struggles

In the starting five, veteran and former MVP Derrick Rose failed to make an impact. In 27 minutes, Rose was three-for-11 shooting for only six points as the Knicks bowed out.

While Kawhi Leonard had 20 points, it was not an efficient display. The Clippers star finished seven-for-19 shooting – making just one of his seven three-point attempts. He also had five turnovers.

 

Ice Trae!

Young bowed to the Madison Square Garden crowd, happy after putting the icing on the cake with a long-range three as the Hawks sent hosts the Knicks packing.

 

Wednesday's results

Utah Jazz 126-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Philadelphia 76ers 129-112 Washington Wizards
Atlanta Hawks 103-89 New York Knicks
Dallas Mavericks 105-100 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Suns at Lakers

It is make or break for defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers, who will host the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Thursday. The Lakers trail the second-seeded Suns 3-2 in the Western Conference first round and face elimination.

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

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